A Conversation about Conversation

I like the idea of conversation. Conversation is friendly. It is human. It is enjoyable. Thinking about the idea of conversation changes how we think and feel about communication. It engages us differently. It makes it easier to think about what we have to say, what we would like to say and how we would like to say it. It changes the experience. It is different than a talk or a speech.

Thinking about conversation gets us thinking about good conversation. What makes good conversation? What do we like? What makes it work well? We like to have fun in conversation. We like conversation to be meaningful as well as enjoyable. We like the idea of leaving a good impression. We like the idea of being a good conversationalist, remembered for our contribution, our friendliness and warmth, and the pleasure of the experience. Conversation is how we express who we are and who we like to be. It is natural. It is comfortable. It is how we like to be.

I find conversation starts best with an idea or an observation. Not an observation about us or who we are talking to. That can be self-serving, evaluative, judgmental. Observations about things we know or have in common. Things we can relate to. Things we feel the same about. It creates a connection. It gives us a place to start. An interest we have in common

Observations can be provocative. All the better. We can use different language. That can get us seeing things differently. It could be stories we all relate to. Whatever it is, it is a conversation “starter”. Not a “closer”. It gets us engaged. Good conversation starters are not about us or them. They’re about both of us. Something we have or know in common. Something that interests us, attracts us, and engages us.

I find good conversation has a flow to it. One thought links to another, comfortably, logically, connecting ideas, building on ideas. Ideas feel good. Interesting ideas. New ideas. I hate conversations where I feel lectured. Talked to. Even if the lecture is good and there is something to learn. Lists of things to do. Admonitions, directions, advice. I start thinking about how well I am doing, or what I need to do, or should do. I can start to feel uncomfortable. I want to leave the conversation. I’ve been known to drift.

I like to find out how other people think about things. How they see things, how they feel about things, and what works for them. I like those three things. I like threes. I find threes everywhere. The third idea. The third opinion. The third choice. Three ideas about three ideas. When I don’t find the third I start looking for it. Threes have balance. Symmetry. Elegance. Like a good conversation. An idea that attracts, engages and intrigues to start the conversation. Stories, observations and thoughts around the idea that are enjoyable and memorable that keep us engaged in the experience. And a closing that captures the idea with a final, satisfying perspective that holds us in a thought and leaves us wanting more.

The simplicity and elegance of the last idea, the last look at the idea, the feeling left by the idea, like the turning point in a good story or film, can be a surprise. A pleasant and thought provoking surprise. A surprise that is unexpected. A surprise that works. We remember the end of a good story. A good ending takes us back to where the story began and all the thoughts along the way. It is not the third idea about the idea. It is the final idea. It is how the conversation should end. It is how we would have expected it to end if we could have expected it.

The thing we learn about conversation is that we learn through conversation. We learn what we know by talking about what we know. We often don’t know what we know. Conversation reveals what we know to us. We like telling others what we know. We like them to know what we know. We like to be able to do that welI if we care about them. That’s what makes good conversation. Caring about the people we are having a conversation with. And demonstrating that we care by telling them what we know will be of interest to them, in their interests, and in a way that they know we care about their interests. That is good conversation.

Having a conversation about a conversation we are going to have is sometimes a good idea. It is a good way to come to know what we know, to know what we would like them to know, and what we think is the best way to tell them. Keeping in mind what we would also like them to know about us.

The Art of Creating Conversation
Vancouver Arts and Cultures Forum
2006.12.19

Exploring the Art of Creative Conversation